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On this day 15th June 1919 Alcock and Brown landed in Ireland after their momentous flight crossing the Atlantic, Newfoundland to Ireland in 15 hours and 57 minutes, and won The Daily Mail £10,000 prize ( equivalent to nearly half a million pounds today).
The Daily Mail had first issued the challenge in April 1913, along with a Round Britain by air challenge. The intent was to stimulate the development of air technology, and was one of many such competitions issued by newspapers and philanthropists since the Wright brothers had made the first ever flight in a powered aeroplane in 1903, covering just 118 feet in 12 seconds. To cross the Atlantic was 1,880 miles. As it happened, the outbreak of war in 1914 turned out to be a more pressing driver of technological development.
After the war the challenge was re-issued by the owner of The Daily Mail, Lord Northcliffe. The conditions which had to be met were that
- The aircraft had to be heavier than air, to rule out airships.
- The flight had to be between any point in Great Britain and any point in Canada, Newfoundland or the United States.
- The flight had to be direct ( non-stop).
- The flight had to be accomplished within seventy-two hours.
The Alcock and Brown aeroplane, a Vickers-Vimy powered by two Rolls-Royce engines specially prepared for the attempt at Rolls-Royce in Derby, was not the first to take off and make the attempt. That was on 18th May when a single engine Sopwith took off; which got into difficulties mid Atlantic but fortunately managed to land near a ship which rescued them.
Also on the 18th May a single engine Martinsyde Raynor, left the same airfield but crashed very shortly after takeoff injuring the navigator who had to be taken to hospital.
Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown had a specially designed Vickers-Vimy bomber with extra fuel tanks in place of the bomb storage and a central front wheel in place of the skid. Both men had flown in the war ( and also been prisoners) and were well used to navigation over land, however the sea posed more difficult challenges, they would have to rely on instruments.
The Vickers-Vimy left the ground in Newfoundland at 4.12 pm GMT on the 14th June 1919 and at 08.40am GMT after 16 hours and 28 minutes in the air, touched down in Ireland. Although this was the time from takeoff to landing, for the purposes of the challenge the time was recorded from the moment they crossed the Irish coastline.
The flight was fraught with difficulties and dangers, if you would like to read more then the following links might help.
All images below open larger if you click on them, as do the ones above.
Although they show a skid on the front of this aeroplane the Alcock and Brown version had a wheel.
The huge impact on the public of this amazing achievement is indicated by the fact that in May 1954 they were still using it as an advertising ploy, 35 years after the event!